Meet Lares Feliciano

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

National Hispanic Heritage Month is annually celebrated from September 15 to October 15! It's a moment to celebrate the culture, history and achievements of Hispanic and Latinx Americans.

As we finish out the month, we want to introduce you to Lares Feliciano, a Denver-based interdisciplinary artist and cultural worker. Feliciano's work explores queer identities, mixed-race experiences, and complex expressions of grief and trauma. Two of her pieces - "Pa'lante" and "Querer Ser Libre es Empezar a Serlo" - are on display in our Upper Gallery as part of our Word Play exhibition. Feliciano took some time to talk with us about these pieces, her love of collage, and how identity and art practice intersect. 

Arvada Center: How did you get your start as an artist?

Lares Feliciano: I have always been an artist. As a kid I would write plays, bind books, and carefully cover my mom’s loafers with bright stickers. As I got older and explored visual art I had some art teachers who were less than encouraging. If you couldn't draw a perfect still life you probably weren't a real artist. This had a big impact on me. If I "can't draw" then how can I be an artist? Around the same time I fell in love with film which propelled me to pursue my undergrad in film studies and then my MFA in Cinema Production. You don't have to draw to make movies, right? In my last year of grad school I took an animation course on a whim and instantly fell in love. I started creating what I now call "moving collage" animations. My love of art, storytelling, and film melded into one medium and I was hooked. It was then that I realized everything I was doing was indeed art and that narrow view of what an artist was was limiting me. The Denver art scene welcomed me with open arms and it's here that I have been able to expand my practice and experiment with new modes of creating. I now believe that everyone is an artist and it is just about nurturing and exercising your creative muscles.

AC: Do you have a medium that you enjoy working in most?

LF: Collage is definitely at the center of my practice. Collage is the act of gathering as much as it is placing and creating, so collage often kick-starts my projects as it facilitates research and planning. Every project starts with gathering and collecting images, ideas, sounds, stories, and ephemera. I love collage because it can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. And it is so incredibly accessible. You can collage with almost anything, anywhere. If I am in a creative rut I always turn to collage to get the wheels turning again.

AC: Can you please describe the inspiration for your two pieces in the Word Play exhibition?

LF: A contraction of "para adelante", Pa'lante is slang for "forward." Throughout Puerto Rican history Pa'lante has come to be a rally cry for resistance and resilience. In the 1970’s, Pa'lante was the name of a bilingual newspaper published by the Young Lords Party. Pa’lante focused on the Puerto Rican independence movement, the oppression of Puerto Ricans and other Latinos in the United States, and global struggles for liberation. In the summer of 2019 Puerto Ricans demonstrated the deep and powerful message of Pa'lante as protestors of all ages marched in the streets demanding the resignation of corrupt Governor Roselló. This piece celebrates the success of those protests and the power and perseverance of the Puerto Rican people.

Photo by Wes Magyar

"Querer ser libre es empezar a serlo - To want to be free is to begin to be so." These words spoken by Puerto Rican revolutionary Ramón Emeterio Betances represent the innate propensity for liberation that exists within us all. But how do we seize freedom in a colonial context? This piece looks at the island's colonial history alongside its rich history of resistance and asks the question: What does a liberated future look like for Puerto Rico?

LISTEN! Hear Lares Feliciano speak about her pieces Word Play in the audio tour of this exhibition.

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AC: How does your identity as a Latina intersect with your identity as an artist?

LF: I subscribe to Nina Simone’s philosophy, “An artists’ duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times”. As a queer, Puerto Rican artist I feel compelled to explore these identities and my experiences through my art. Furthermore, I see art as an access point to learning, growth, and political change. Puerto Rico continues to be colonized by the United States and yet most Americans know very little about Puerto Ricans, our culture, and our history. I consider it my duty as an artist to use my craft to share about Puerto Rico, the diaspora, and the realities of the world’s oldest colony.


AC: Where would you like to see arts organizations go in the future with regard to working with and showing the work of Latinx artists?

LF: First, Latinx artists deserve the space to lead. This means more exhibitions curated by Latinx artists and curators, and more Latinx folks taking leadership roles at these organizations. Second, I encourage all of us to focus on learning about specific cultures and communities. The monolith of Latinx can be misleading - we are all different peoples with rich cultures, histories, and experiences. The urge to clump us all into one demographic erases the diversity of who we refer to as Latinx. Lastly, we can all do better in acknowledging the colorism that exists within Latinx communities and the way Latinx folks are represented. White-assumed folks like myself get asked to represent the community while my Black siblings are chronically ignored. Afro-Puerto Ricans exist. Afro-Mexicans exist. The list goes on. Making intentional space to honor and celebrate the Afro-Latinx experience is essential.

Learn more about Feliciano and follow her work by exploring her website!

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